With plans to adopt a 2014–15 operations budget at its Dec. 18 meeting, Harris County Emergency Services District No. 9 is looking at sales tax revenue raised this year from a recently implemented rate increase to bring improvements to the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department.
As the governing body over the volunteer fire department, ESD No. 9 is in charge of approving an annual operations budget—which includes standard expenses, such as payroll, diesel fuel and equipment upkeep—in addition to any capital improvement projects, ESD Commissioner Bob Janusaitis said.
The ESD allocates a fund for capital improvement projects in its budget, but specific projects are not immediately identified. Instead, CFVFD will come to the board throughout the year with proposals, which the board considers for approval. Likely projects in 2015 include a new station in the Bridgeland area.
CFVFD is in talks with Howard Hughes Corporation, Bridgeland's developer, to try to finalize a location. The department hopes to have a location identified at the December meeting.
An expansion of ambulance services, new equipment and the construction of new fire stations in the growing areas of western Cy-Fair were all cited as future needs that sales tax revenue would help fund, Fire Chief Amy Ramon said.
Janusaitis also noted that the replacement of aging equipment is fairly typical. A new fire engine could cost anywhere between $750,000 and $1.5 million depending on the model. The department will typically replace two ambulances per year as well, at around $250,000 apiece.
Sales tax revenue
In May 2013, voters approved a proposal from ESD No. 9 to collect 1 percent in sales tax revenue from purchases made within the department's service area. The measure passed with the approval of 59 percent of voters.
The request was based on studies that looked at population growth, transportation issues and the upcoming construction of new schools and churches in the service area, Janusaitis said.
With new funds secured, ESD commissioners spent time in 2014 developing a more focused budgeting process.
"It's a balancing act," Janusaitis said. "We're going to position ourselves so we can make reasonable decisions about what we're going to do five years out so we're not short money or have an excess amount of money. The benefit now is we won't have to borrow to construct the buildings."
The district continues to exceed expectations with sales tax revenue raised since implementing the 1 percent increase in January, with revenues more than double what was expected. In previous years, the district did not collect any sales tax revenue at all. The district has found several ways to give back to tax payers, including enacting a 5 percent homestead exemption and $165,000 exemptions for disabled persons and people 65 and older.
"Our estimates are always conservative, but the growth in the area brought us significantly more revenue than expected," Janusaitis said. "However, the need for expansion is greater than ever, especially around the Grand Parkway, and this allows us to do things quicker than we originally planned as well."